Research & Best Practices

Environmental Monitoring Sensors in Factories & Manufacturing


Connected industrial sensors are playing a bigger role than ever for innovative, forward-looking manufacturers focused on maximizing efficiency, performance, output and safety. There are numerous types of sensors that can be put to use in an industrial setting, measuring various factors while maintaining the common threads of real-time monitoring, data tracking, and early detection and alert of potential issues.

We can generally view industrial sensors in two broad categories: equipment sensors and environmental sensors. Equipment sensors are used to monitor machine performance more directly, and include vibration sensors, amperage sensors and power consumption sensors.

What are environmental sensors? These sensors monitor and measure aspects of the ambient environment in the facility in which equipment operates. Types of environmental sensors include air quality sensors, humidity sensors and pH monitoring sensors, among many others, which we will look at in more detail below.

First, we will further explore some background information on IoT environmental monitoring sensors.

How do environmental monitoring sensors work?

Environmental sensors work by taking constant measurements of the conditions that they are designed to monitor. As connected, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the sensors are then able to wirelessly transmit data directly to a central repository, where it is tracked and analyzed to continually establish baseline measurements and to detect the beginnings of deviations from the norm.

When deviations occur, an alert can be raised — and sent to personnel located anywhere, whether on-site or remote — which will then typically lead to investigation and development of an action plan.

Benefits of environmental sensors

Environmental sensors and environmental monitoring methods deliver numerous benefits, including:

  • Real-time tracking and alert of potential issues
  • Early detection to facilitate predictive maintenance, the most effective way to address problems before they negatively impact production
  • Enhanced overall equipment performance — ambient environmental factors can have as much of an impact on performance as the condition of the machines themselves
  • Improved worker safety — in addition to conditions for equipment, environmental sensors are important for detecting potential health hazards
  • Reduced maintenance costs by detecting issues before they cause malfunction or harm to equipment
  • Increased uptime
  • More efficient production with little or no unplanned downtime
  • Higher-quality equipment output with machinery running under more optimal conditions

Types of sensors used in environmental monitoring

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There is a wide range of sensor types used in environmental monitoring, with elements and factors impacting equipment performance in different ways. Some of the most frequently used environmental sensors include:

Air quality sensors: Air quality sensors monitor pollutant levels in the air, such as dust particles, CO2 and more. Depending on the location and purpose of these sensors, they can serve several functions. When placed near exhaust fans, filters and dust collectors, for example, air quality sensors can ensure that these critical devices are performing as intended — removing contaminants from the surrounding air.

They can indicate potential malfunction, and can be used to more accurately detect when it is time to clean or replace components such as filters (as opposed to replacing on a rigid preventive schedule, which often leads to maintenance occurring when not needed — when equipment performance has already been affected).

When placed in employee work areas, air quality sensors are also a key safeguard in protecting worker health and safety, so that contaminants and particles do not reach unsafe levels. They also serve an important function in IoT HVAC systems, where they serve to help regulate the operation of the equipment. Home automation systems often depend on these to control air filtering equipment and other aspects of indoor air quality. These sensors also can be used to assist weather forecasting at remote locations to help plan activities at jobsites and other areas.

Pressure sensors: These are used for a variety of purposes for measuring the amount of pressure present in gas, liquid or vapor systems. They can be utilized to monitor the pressure in a water tank or for checking the air pressure and temperature levels inside an HVAC system.

Humidity sensors: Humidity monitoring is important in ensuring that systems such as HVAC and compressors are working properly and at optimal efficiency. In addition, these sensors can detect humidity levels that may lead to discomfort and reduced performance for personnel, as well as suboptimal conditions for equipment to operate. Humidity sensors can work in concert with “smart” environmental control devices to automatically raise or lower the humidity level as needed, without any manual action required.

Gas monitoring sensors: These devices typically combine numerous detection technologies in a single package. These can include barometric pressure, relative humidity and gas measurement. Applications these are used for frequently include checking for the presence of volatile organic compounds that can contribute to indoor air pollution.

pH monitoring sensors: These sensors measure the amount of alkalinity and acidity in water and other solutions. Proper levels are critical for efficient machinery operation and testing in certain types of manufacturing facilities as well as wastewater treatment plants.

A pH test is a necessary component of these types of operations and, when done manually, can be excessively time-consuming and subject to error. With sensor-based monitoring, results are automatically taken on an ongoing basis. Those results are automatically tracked, logged and analyzed for potential problems — boosting efficiency and improving accuracy and emergency response time.

Temperature sensors: Like humidity sensors, temperature sensors — when used for environmental monitoring — are helpful to help achieve optimal conditions for the most efficient equipment operation. Temperature sensors are also often used for equipment performance monitoring, as increased operating temperatures are often a predictor of an impending performance issue or malfunction.

With this overview, you should now have a working understanding of the functions, uses and benefits of environmental sensors. As part of a predictive maintenance strategy, these sensors can play a major role in reducing your overall maintenance spend, improving resource efficiency, optimizing equipment performance metrics and benefiting your bottom line.

To learn more about how ATS can help you implement a technology-powered, results-focused maintenance plan, contact us today.

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